***OUR FIRST RACE WEEKEND***

Practice Saturday

Having previously been looking forward to this all week, my enthusiasm had been dampened a little by the ever-changing weather forecast for the weekend. Saturday was forecast to be mostly dry with the chance of a 10am shower so, with this in mind, Friday night was spent setting up the kart for dry running. We arrived at the track in good time and parked amidst the Junior TKM mob, several of whom we had become friendly with over the months. Then it rained. Junior and I covered up the kart and then decided to give it 15 mins to see if the rain would stop so, whilst most folk were getting set under their awnings, we were sat in a steamed-up Clio hoping not to get soaked at the start of the day (remember I had failed to get the waterproof clothing the day before!). The rain stopped but we were then rushing to get the kart set – mixing the fuel, priming the carb, getting the wets on etc for the first run of the day. It being a race practice, we were out for only 10 minutes and I really needed to know the kart was ok (especially the electrics as I had not started it up since replacing the HT lead). We got out and managed 3 laps before the session ended but that was fine, the kart was running and that was the main thing.

The remainder of the day is a bit of a blur now – I had intended to write this up on Saturday evening. The day went very smoothly; the track wasn’t all that quick and we were on tyres that had seen 200+ laps so I wasn’t expecting us to set any PBs. We ended up about a second off the pace with a best time of 36.5s but the kart ran reliably all day, giving me the opportunity to walk around the track and view Junior’s lines in some of the corners that I don’t see properly when standing in the middle of the track. This really was an eye-opener: I could see that he wasn’t really getting the power down as quickly exiting the Top Bend and he was able to correct that the following session. The biggest issue was Billies: he was entering too narrowly, not killing enough speed and consequently running wide and having to stay wide (in order to avoid losing the back end) for a large part of the corner. That explained why he had consistently been overtaken on the entry to The Esses. Unfortunately we didn’t make much progress there in the final session of the day but at least we knew there was something to work on.

I was really tired when I got home and, faced with an even earlier start, didn’t really fancy doing any work on the kart despite the updated forecast showing heavy rain throughout the Sunday.

Race Sunday

I got up at 5:45am (it’s funny how the driver gets up a fair bit later than that!) to ensure that we got to Clay as close to 8:00am as possible and had plenty of time to change the kart setup. We arrived in the low cloud gloom that typifies Clay in the autumn/winter months but at least it was not raining. The track was wet but I decided against raising the axle height in case I ran out of time – for some reason I had always removed the axle to change it’s height and it was only later when another Dad commented that you could leave it in place that I realised I had been removing brake discs etc unnecessarily!

After almost failing to sign in before the deadline and then listening to the drivers briefing, I decided to sign up for a marshall jacket – this meant I’d be responsible for restarting any spinners or removing their kart from any danger zones but it meant I could be in the middle of the track to watch Junior as opposed to watching from the pit lane. I really do hate the latter as you cannot see the whole track and I find myself nervously waiting for Junior to come back into view (which always seems to take longer than it should!). It was the kind of weather when you have both sets of tyres next to the kart, ready to fit slicks or wets at the last minute. For our 3 lap warm-up, we all went out on wets. The karts are bunched up at the front of the dummy grid so you don’t have the luxury of affording yourself a long run-up for the push start; fortunately the kart started almost instantly and off he went. You’d think a 3 lap warm-up would be pretty unadventurous but Junior managed to spin it entering Billies for the third time! He braked too hard and said “Hello” to Junior 177s as he went backwards into the run-off and they went past him. At this point I was beginning to wonder what kind of day this was going to be.

The kart was ready for Heat 1 – we were running 20mm spacers on the front and the rears were in as far as possible. I only have the standard front and rear hubs so no changes there. The front height was at medium and the rear end still low. The big question was tyres – there was dampness in the air but there had been no more rain and the track was drying. Everyone was on wets for the first four races but the Senior TKM heat really spiced things up – the only driver on wets took a half lap lead and held onto it, despite what appeared to be a dry line and losing a little of his lead towards the end. This posed some questions for the Junior TKM Dads but the unanimous opinion was in favour of slicks. Off came our slicks and on went the wets!!! For some reason, I really had the urge to mix things up and so I put it to Junior who was also in favour. What did we have to lose? We were starting last and would finish last on any track, especially a wet one. Ok, so there was a downside – if we were wrong, not only could we finish an embarrassingly long way behind but we might also ruin the £50 used tyres we had yet to run on. Our actions generated some interest from the other Dads – I don’t know whether they thought I was being naive or whether this made their tyre choice that bit more critical; if it paid off, we could be in with a chance! Although everybody knew we wouldn’t be standing on the podium at the end of the day, you really shouldn’t let the noob win his first race should you? :O

We got to the dummy grid and appeared to be the only kart on wets until the Super 1 racer came along and stole our thunder! Now we definitely wouldn’t win but it really was exciting, especially when it started to spit with rain. Race time and sadly, no more rain! Off they went and the person in front of Junior spun on the warm-up lap. I was concerned that Junior may not know what he was supposed to do at this point and start out of position – he certainly didn’t seem to show any signs of giving up the newly acquire space! Fortunately the spinner caught up and hustled his way in just as they approached the formation area on the second warm-up lap. It was a massive thrill to see Junior in the field as they bunched up for the start (is it just me or is this the anxious bit for Dads?) – I just crossed everything that he didn’t pile into them like skittles going into Billies! Billies must have been pretty wet as Junior made up places coming out of there and again going into The Hairpin. Cue huge smile on my face – ok, so we wouldn’t normally be anywhere near as quick as these guys but find ourselves in the mix was fantastic. Junior made another pass at The Hairpin again and was now 5th. He pulled a bit of a gap but the front four had dropped him, with the other driver on wets leading but only by a second or so – the tyre option must have been a really close call. Junior then almost lost it into The Hairpin (my marshalling point is where it all seemed to be happening), just caught the back end but lost a place to a friend against whom he would have been racing at Castle Combe this time last year. They had a really good tussle – Junior clearly had the grip through the corners but lost ground on the straights, after he few laps he dived into a gap left on the inside of The Hairpin but slid into the other kart, causing them to spin. I cringed a little, wondering how tough the clerks are on things like that and hoping Junior could keep his nose clean for the rest of the day. The 4th place kart broke down on the final lap so Junior moved up another place. To say we were satisfied would be a massive understatement 🙂

That was the high point of the day and it went downhill a little from there so you can expect this part to be a little shorter 😉 Heat 2 saw the track drying and sky brightening – slicks were a no-brainer. Until the previous race finished and it rained heavily! We (I mean Team KartingDad, not the entire field) were all at sea, quite literally – Junior looked like Bambi on ice out there and, although he finished 5th following three DNFs, it was very distant 5th (closer to the Junior 177s than the Junior TKMs!). Heat 3 really showed where we were at, close enough for the first couple of laps but dropped pretty quickly after that and finishing 8th, 21 seconds adrift. I realised then that whilst the others were racing, we were getting wet practice the hard way. Those practice days cancelled because of weather were hurting us. A lot! Junior was still enjoying but, by this time, I was soaked! Thankfully one of the other Dads took pity on me and invited me to share his awning (thanks, Wilf – I owe you a beer!). At this point there was a lunch break so I raised the rear axle height to try to make things easier for Junior. The rain continued through the afternoon and the final saw Junior start 6th courtesy of our decent finshes in the first two heats. He appeared to lose one place BEFORE THEY CROSSED THE START LINE!!! (does nobody watch this???) and was back to 8th by the end of lap one. Having run smoothly all weekend, our final ended after 3 laps with a DNF (Dad Not Focused) – whilst changing the axle height I had negated to properly tighten the engine mount (yes, that old bugbear). Blame the weather, the rushing, the not wanting to get in the way of my generous awning host. Or just blame me :/

Anyway, the chain came off and that was that – at least my new and expensive Panther chain hadn’t snapped. I did find that it allowed me to enjoy the rest of the final – a decent contest with some very tidy moves deciding the outcome. We stuck around long enough to congratulate the winner, say goodbye to friends (some new, some even newer!) and set off for home as quickly as possible. It is no fun driving home in wet pants, nor getting home and spending the next three hours dyring/cleaning the kart! The day itself was a great experience though – the TKM community at Clay are a *very* friendly bunch and our 4th place is something I will always remember. We desperately need some more wet practice – not only for driver but for the mechanic to learn how to properly set a kart up for the wet. The 15psi guidance that I had taken from the Tal-Ko tips on Getting The Best From Your Tyres was definitely not enough and probably a big factor in Junior’s struggles. When they say “So with the Maxxis tyres we use generally the slicks should be pressured at around the 12 – 15 psi area and they will work fine. And similar for the new wets.“, you can ignore that and just go with the summary on their tyre overview page which more usefully advises “between 8lbs to 25lbs pressure all round. The wetter it is the higher the pressure“. You live and learn…

Cost of weekend: £24 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee, £35 novice race fee

Total spent so far: £3,731

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